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The Wall in Jerusalem: “Military Conquest by Architectural Means”

Contributed by Jerusalem Quarterly on 19.12.2007:

Ray Dolphin

Jerusalem Quarterly

Issue 26

Spring 2006

During the night of 31 July, 2003, the Israeli Border Police descended on Nu’man on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem. The Border Police went from house to house in the Palestinian community–little more than a hamlet of 200 persons–and rounded up 19 of the males. Despite the show of force, and the fact that this was the third such incursion in as many months, security was not the main purpose of the operation. Instead, as Palestinians holding West Bank identity cards, the men were charged with illegal entry into Israel. Nu’man is situated inside the Jerusalem municipal borders which Israel expanded and annexed after its conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967, and entry is forbidden to West Bank Palestinians without a special permit.

The men were taken into custody and released some hours later, haven been warned of the consequences if they attempted illegal entry into Israel in the future. The men then returned to Nu’man, so repeating the offence for which they had been detained. Their recidivism was understandable: they were not ‘illegal residents’ in any normal definition of the term (Palestinians from the West Bank who had recently moved to Nu’man). On the contrary, they were returning to the village where they had been born and raised, a community founded in the 1930s before the creation of the state of Israel.

The absurd situation in which the residents of Nu’man found themselves dates back to the June 1967 War when Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control since 1948. By the end of June, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, had approved the expansion of the existing municipal boundary to include not only the six square kilometres of Jordanian East Jerusalem but an additional 64 square kilometres encompassing 28 Palestinian villages in the surrounding hinterland. These 70 square kilometres were unilaterally and illegally annexed as sovereign territory to Israel: overnight Jerusalem became Israel’s largest city in terms of size and population. The bulk of the territories conquered in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, were not formally annexed in the same way for fear of the international consequences, and because there was no consensus within the Israeli establishment about their future status. Jerusalem, however, was considered of such political and symbolic value that annexation was worth the cost.

In addition to providing copious reserves of land for future Jewish settlement, annexation brought some 70,000 Palestinians–residents of East Jerusalem and the surrounding villages–within the expanded municipal boundary. Following a census in 1967 these Palestinians were conferred not with Israeli citizenship but with ‘permanent residency’ status. Their blue Jerusalem identity cards granted Jerusalem Palestinians the right to live and move freely within Israel: by contrast, their West Bank and Gaza cousins, with their orange or green identity cards, were adjusting to life under a military regime that continues to this day. For the succeeding decades– until after the Gulf War of 1991, when Israel introduced a permit regime for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians wishing to enter Jerusalem–all Palestinians were able to travel and work inside Israel, as part of a policy of integrating the two economies. Jerusalem Palestinians, however, were entitled to the same social, welfare and health benefits as Israeli citizens. On the other hand, unlike West Bank Palestinians, they had to pay a special municipal tax at the same rates as their Jewish co-residents, while receiving few of the benefits.

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